Ari Marcopoulos

Ari Marcopoulos at MC Kunst
“The Chance is Higher”
November 3, 2007-January 12, 2008

Originally published in Artweek 39.1

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In the decades since he worked as an assistant at Warhol’s Factory, Ari Marcopoulos has developed a prolific photography practice that blends personal, artistic and commercial pursuits. He has shot Jean-Michel Basquiat, the Beastie Boys, and hip-hop artists like Run D.M.C.; snowboarders and skateboarders; fashion spreads for magazines; and ad campaigns for high-end clients like Hugo Boss. He has also turned his lens on his personal surroundings, especially on his family members—his wife, Jennifer Goode, and his sons Ethan and Cairo—in the tradition of photographers like Lee Friedlander and Sally Mann (though Marcopoulos’s intimate images, unlike Mann’s, tend not to be sexualized).

Most of the twelve works included in The Chance is Higher—ten large-scale black-and-white photocopies of photographs as well as two short videos—depict what might be called unvarnished slices of life: In “Ethan” (2007), the artist’s just-born son, his umbilical cord still attached, opens his mouth to cry. “Thomas” (2007) shows a man spray-painting jagged lines on a wall. In “Untitled (Cairo)” (2007), a lone child’s leg dangles into the frame, the shin marked with small scabs, while spatters of blood and a used band-aid collect at the bottom of a sink in “Drain” (2007). “Dressage” (2007), a video, shows a teenage boy (Cairo) walking into what is presumably his dad’s studio, sitting to face the camera, and ranting about injustice like only a teenager can; a horned papier-mâché head situated behind the chair turns him into a little devil. The other video, “Eero Loop” (2004), zooms slowly in on a younger boy’s black eye. And in “Diary” (2007), an open journal contains vitriolic poetry (“While you sleep / I snuck in your bed / Hacked off your head”) penned in a rounded, youthful-looking script. Other images are less gritty: “Jennifer” (2007) is a nude paused in a doorway, her face mostly hidden by a crown of huge hibiscus blossoms. “Hokkaido” (2007) shows a wave crashing against a rock off the Japanese coast.

But all of the works in the exhibition are shot through with a similar strand of beauty—an effect of the often gorgeous quality of light (in “Cairo” (2007), for instance, a close portrait, the boy’s pensive face practically glows white)—but mainly of something in the captured moments themselves. The scrapes and bruises depicted in several of the images are minor; they document injury, but mostly they’re evidence of a young person’s profound engagement with the world. In “Angel” (2007), a young man with a nasty bruise on his back stands (or maybe lies) with his arms over his head in a pose that looks almost worshipful, his white baseball cap blending into the bright white background. You don’t pity him for his wound—you admire, or envy, his air of sublime transcendence.

By presenting large photocopies of his photographs rather than glossy prints, Marcopoulos keys up their beauty still higher, even as he makes them grittier and grainier. Borrowing the aesthetic of punk-show fliers and other DIY printed matter, the resulting works have a certain underground aura, even an urgency. The high contrast of Xerox ink intensifies the effects of light at work in each image, so that most areas are either utterly luminous or heavily shadowed. The texture of the surfaces, meanwhile, is soft, nearly velvety. It’s a case of form ideally suited to content: life’s unvarnished moments treated with an equally pedestrian—but also, in its way, edgy—medium. There’s nothing new about locating beauty in the mundane, or the unpleasant, or the dirty, or the raw, but as The Chance is Higher demonstrates, Marcopoulos has a particular genius for it.